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The issue of diversity in the engineering sector is still a burning issue, and one in which the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) is taking a critical look.

Diversity in every sense of the word is key. Research from late last year indicated that diversity helps businesses to become more innovative and more successful. According to Steven Kaplan, COO of SAICE, while the research was conducted in the USA, there are parallels of which South African companies should be cognisant. He says the study showed that teams with a broader range of people have a wider range of interests, experiences, and backgrounds upon which to draw. They understand potential users of products better than less diverse teams and they tend to be better problem-solvers, coming up with blue-sky solutions more often. “They think about problems in a different way that might have been expected which is both essential and beneficial from an engineering perspective.”

He says while it’s always worth looking back to view progress, recent weeks have given SAICE the opportunity to drill deeper into the demographics that make up the civil engineering sector, and the combination of historical and current numbers, together with projections, makes for some interesting statistics and forecasts.

From 2013 to 2018 there have been notable increases in the percentage of female members of SAICE (of the 15 964 number of members in total). Registered practitioners increased from 2.85% to 4.46%, graduates from 17.76% to 30.44% and students from 35.2% to 48.12%. In total, female representation increased from 14.42% to 17.88%.

But these numbers tell only one side of the story and they can’t be viewed in isolation. Key to understanding how the future looks for civil engineering is to look at combined race, gender and age for male and female members. These are the statistics that tell the real story for the future demographics of SAICE and civil engineering.

Current universal SAICE membership comprises 13 150 males and 2 814 females across the age spectrum. While white males are prevailing in the 40+ age groups, with virtually no representation of other races in the older age groups (66 years plus), a notable statistic here is the number of young black male civil engineers currently in the 20 to 40 years window – a total of 7 297.

The picture for female engineers tells an even more compelling story about the future of demographics for SAICE, with the growth of black female candidates showing a significant upswing, at 25% in the 20 to 40-year age group compared to the universal membership percentage which sits at 18%.

“Should current demographic trends within SAICE continue, the future will look very different. Going forward, the split by race and gender for males and females in the age ranging from 20 to 40 will eventually spread evenly throughout the membership, and while these changes won’t become apparent overnight, we urge all players in our sector to focus on and strive to continue to grow and replicate these numbers,” says Kaplan.

“The civil engineering profession needs commitment from all players – individuals, companies and tertiary institutions – to ensure the growth of our profession and to facilitate the changes needed to ensure that diversity becomes broadly entrenched as we work towards constantly developing and increasing our numbers to match population categorisation,” Kaplan says.

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